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Community journalism is alive and well in Oregon

Newspapers are doing quite well in the Portland metropolitan area, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that following all the buzz about The Oregonian’s announcement last week that it is cutting staff, reducing home delivery, downsizing its offices and focusing its future on digital delivery of news.

It is unfortunate that Portland’s daily paper is struggling. We lament the loss of several dozen fine journalists, and hope those who’ve been laid off by The Oregonian and the Hillsboro Argus are able to find rewarding work elsewhere. We’ll also miss seeing a full-fledged daily paper delivered to our homes on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

While we here at the Hillsboro Tribune regret what is happening to our competitors and colleagues at The Oregonian and the Argus, it is also important to point out significant differences between that particular company and our own.

When people hear of massive changes taking place with big city daily newspapers, they understandably jump to the conclusion that all print journalism is suffering the same fate.

Happily, that is far from the case. Community newspapers across the country continue to thrive. They have loyal readerships, a strong advertising base and a relationship with their respective communities that cannot be duplicated by other forms of media.

The Portland-based Pamplin Media Group, which now includes 24 newspapers, has grown steadily over the past few years. Last summer we started the Hillsboro Tribune. And in January, owner Robert B. Pamplin Jr. purchased an additional six community newspapers, based on his conviction that community journalism is the future for all newspapers in the United States.

Over on the North Coast, the story is much the same. On Friday, Steve Forrester, publisher of the Daily Astorian, noted his company — which also owns the East Oregonian, Wallowa County Chieftain, John Day Blue Mountain Eagle and Chinook Observer — has upgraded its presses and seen subscriptions rise in the past year.

In McMinnville, meanwhile, The News-Register, a fourth-generation family-owned business, continues publishing its twice-weekly community newspaper with a growing number of special sections and related publications.

All of these companies, including ours, are transitioning from newspapers into media companies, as we put energy and resources into digital products, from our websites to phone apps. However, we all continue to view our print product as our foundations, knowing that no matter how smart our phones get, newspapers offer readers and advertisers attributes that simply can’t be matched on an electronic device.

This isn’t just an Oregon trend. According to statistics compiled by the National Newspaper Association, more than 150 million people in the U.S. are informed, educated and entertained each week by a community newspaper. That’s why you see a smart investor such as Warren Buffett buying up community newspapers around the nation.

Other industry observers have taken note as well, and many analysts point to the divergent paths being taken by metro dailies and community weeklies. Writing in the Los Angeles Times in 2011, journalism professor Judy Muller stated this distinction clearly: “At a time when mainstream news media are hemorrhaging and doomsayers are predicting the death of journalism (at least as we’ve known it), take heart: The free press is alive and well in small towns across America.”

That’s why, last October, The Oregonian launched the Forest Grove Leader and this spring started the Beaverton Leader, even as plans were being made to lay off reporters and photographers in Portland and Hillsboro.

It’s too soon to say whether The Oregonian’s sudden interest in Portland’s other suburbs will pay off for its owners in New Jersey.

But we know that we’re not going anywhere.

To the Pamplin Media Group, “community journalism” isn’t a throw-away slogan; it’s our mission. And the communities we cover aren’t test markets; they’re our hometowns.

We always have had an exclusive focus on local news and advertising. Metro daily newspapers, by contrast, have had to report on the news of the nation and the world, even as digital forms of news made their print editions outdated before they ever hit the driveway.

True community journalism is different. Sure, we report what is happening at Hillsboro City Hall and the cop shop, but we also write the types of stories that people will clip from the Hillsboro Tribune and hold onto for years: weddings, engagements, obituaries; features on individuals making a difference within their communities. We write about local high school students who shine in the classroom, on the stage and on athletic fields.

To us, these aren’t interesting tales about strangers. They’re stories about our friends, neighbors and, at times, our own relatives.

Community newspapers are a reflection of our communities, and as such, we offer neighborhood-level journalism that will be tough for any other medium to replicate.

What’s happening at The Oregonian is unfortunate, but it isn’t the complete story of newspapers in Portland and the vital communities surrounding it. Our company isn’t retreating or cutting back. We are expanding, and intend to be here for our readers, delivering news in print and online for decades to come.



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